In another example of the market providing parents with safe-search alternatives for their children, the recent redesign of AskKids.com means children can safely search for information on the Internet while taking advantage of the site’s games, kid-friendly videos, and images.
AskKids.com (https://www.askkids.com) features a schoolhouse page allowing children to search by specific school subject while providing links to other learning resources such as the Environmental Encyclopedia, Periodic Table of Elements, and International Children’s Digital Library.
The site also offers filters for children of varying ages with sections labeled kids, teens, and advanced teens.
AskKids.com is not the only one of its kind. Similar search-engine Web sites such as KidZui.com, Cybersleuth-Kids.com, and Dibdabdoo.com offer parents a safe way to keep unwanted material away from their children as they use the Web. Experts say Web sites like these are a good idea.
“We’re all for new tools and innovative ways to keep kids safe online, so we welcome it,” said Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, a UK- and Washington, DC-based organization aimed at making the Internet safer for children. “One of the things we often tell people is that Google has a safe-search component as well. They haven’t been that open or public about it, though.
“We’d like to see them be proactive in encouraging parents to use it,” Balkam said. “We’d also like to see that kind of facility feature password protection as well. Right now if a child finds that the safe-search filter is on, they can just change the setting on their own.”
Other search engines such as AOL and Yahoo also offer parents safe-search filters potentially helpful in preventing unsavory material from crossing a child’s computer screen. Experts say the filters can be especially useful for the tween and teen set.
“I think kid-specific tools really are for the younger kids,” said Anne Collier, co-director of ConnectSafely.org, an organization promoting Internet safety for families. “Older kids really want to use adult search engines, but I think it’s a really good idea for families to use at least moderate filtering.
“It’s great that there are layers of protection that families can choose from,” Collier said. “It really depends on the individual family’s values and interests to decide what tool or layer to use.”
No Push for Laws
So far, legislators have not felt the need to push for safe-search options when it comes to kids using the Internet. Some experts say this is a good thing.
“We don’t need the government to come in and play nanny,” said Daniel Ballon, Ph.D., a policy fellow in technology studies at the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute. “If the government tried to make this a rule, it would be a mess.
“What the government has tried to do in the past is enforce age verification on the Internet as a way to determine whether the person accessing a Web site is under the age of 18,” Ballon said. “But how does a Web site do that without collecting a great deal of personal information about the person, like a Social Security number or credit card number?
“That seems like a really poor option versus allowing the customers that demand greater protection to seek out those services,” Ballon continued. “As long as the market exists, it will create an incentive for people to provide services like AskKids.com.”
Threats vs. Censorship
Balkam says legislators have played an indirect role in the creation and popularity of Internet safety measures for children—he believes congressional hearings and threats of legislation motivated companies to go the extra mile and create such features. Balkam hopes the nation’s next president takes a proactive role in ensuring the Internet is safe for all users.
“We’ve had eight years of virtually no action on this space when it comes to this administration, and very little out of Congress,” Balkam said. “We are quite excited to work with whoever gets in office on issues, particularly on things that have to do with online education.
“If ever there is a role of government, it’s in helping support good educational-awareness campaigns, research, and evaluation of activities taking place on the Web,” Balkam said. “This is preferred over trying to censor the Internet, which is what previous Congresses have tried to do.”
Balkam suggests the next president “use his bully pulpit to pull together industry and nonprofit leaders once a year in a summit” to evaluate progress in online safety and education.
Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.
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